Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Betty Amongi has said that the proposed constitutional amendments to allow government to compulsorily acquire land are meant to enable government to timely meet its development targets.
The Minister told journalists on Tuesday that the current law has stalled numerous government projects and caused an annual loss of more than USD 97m to government.
The proposed amendment of Article 26 of the 1995 constitution which has since attracted widespread criticism states: “Where the owner of property objects to the compensation awarded under the law made under clause (2) (b), the government or Local government will deposit with court for the property owner the compensation awarded for the property and the government shall take possession of the property pending determination by court of any dispute relating to compensation.”
In a press conference held at the Uganda Media Centre, Amongi clarified that contrary to public perception that the Land Acquisition Bill will aide private land grabbing by government, the Bill will “allow any land owner disputing the amount to seek legal redress in court as government proceeds with its program.”
“The Bill has not been facilitated by intentions by government to grab people’s land but to deliver a public good to Ugandans which is its role. If government fails to do this in an efficient manner, it is the same Ugandans that will complain,” she said.
Minister Amongi noted that: “What we are trying to cure is that work will go on as court determines the additional amount of money somebody wants through negotiations.”
“Many projects delayed including construction of water systems by NWSW, roads, the standard gauge railway due to a few individuals who reject the amount of money determined by the Chief Government Valuer.”
“Delays cause costs for idle equipment and these costs are not incurred by government but by the tax payer. As a result, more than USD 97 million is lost annually,” she explained.
While there are pending plans for an omnibus amendment, Amongi says the current obstacles (delays) make it impossible for government to wait for this process if it is to deliver oil and public infrastructure by 2020.
Under the new Bill, Parliament shall by law prescribe the time within which any dispute shall be resolved. As of now, the time frame is not known.
“There’s a misunderstanding that the Bill will empower government to acquire land for investors. But Article 26 (2) clearly stipulates that government can only acquire land for purposes of public use, public safety, public order, public health, public morality or in the interest of defence,” the Minister further stated.
She lashed out at speculators who have been at the centre of sabotaging government projects saying that she has written to all Ministries “to provide us with a corridor where such projects will pass and henceforth there will be no transaction of land in this gazetted corridor.”
In the oil corridor, for example, she said, land has been gazetted and several land titles cancelled in Buliisa.
The head of Uganda Land Commission, Baguma Isoke says that Uganda is only introducing a land law that is practiced in neighboring countriea like Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
“Government has in its laws the power to acquire private property for public good. Absurdly low land value could cause ripples in the economy but also absurdly high value make its unacquirable,” Isoke noted.